The Chiefs only turned into the hottest team in football last season after running back Jamaal Charles went down for the year with a torn ACL and cornerback Sean Smith returned from a three-game suspension for a DUI charge. With the availability of those two key players flipped—Smith is now in Oakland, and Charles is working his way back to 100% in time for Week 1—will Kansas City pick up where it left off once the new regular season opens?
The Chiefs are deep enough on D to survive Smith’s departure after drafting three corner prospects who don’t have to be rushed into big roles early behind Phillip Gaines and second-year pro Marcus Peters. It’s less of a certainty that their coaching staff is deep enough to endure the loss of offensive coordinator Doug Pederson, whose units finished in the top half of the league during three straight winning seasons before he took the Eagles’ head coach job this winter. Brad Childress and Matt Nagy were promoted to co-offensive coordinator roles, and that duo’s efforts to maintain continuity around steady QB Alex Smith should make for classic August fodder.
The Rookie: For the second straight year, the Chiefs drafted a talented cornerback who sabotaged his college career with an off-field infraction before mending fences with the program that booted him from its lineup. If KeiVarae Russell, the team’s third-round pick who served a year-long suspension for academic misconduct while at Notre Dame, shows half the potential Peters did during his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign, Kansas City can plan to field one of the league’s top defenses yet again.
Position Battle Spoiler: The Chiefs will be eager to see what Albert Wilson can do to complement No. 1 receiver Jeremy Maclin in year three, but Rod Streater could prove to be one of the off-season’s most underrated acquisitions. After falling out of favor in Oakland the past two years, he could work his way into being the clear third option in a passing game asking its younger contributors to step up behind Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce.
The Stat: 5.5, career sacks for third-year pass rusher Dee Ford, who famously said before the 2014 draft that he was better than consensus No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney. Ford may currently hold a career one-sack edge over Clowney despite struggling to crack the Chiefs’ front seven in his first two seasons, but with Justin Houston still working his way back from ACL surgery and in doubt for Week 1, the Chiefs will look to Ford to back up that old silly-season storyline and play his way into a bigger role.
Preseason Watchability: No longer in-state rivals, the Chiefs and Rams meet in Los Angeles on Aug. 20 in the second game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as both teams take notes on the depth of their stellar defenses.